Probert, Wright seeking IRSD’s District 3 board seat

 

MILLSBORO — A well-traveled civil engineer and a federal government retiree are candidates for Indian River School District’s District 3 board of education seat.

Challenger Dana Probert and incumbent Leolga Wright, both of Millsboro, are seeking the five-year term on the board’s 10-member governing body in the May 8 school board elections.

District 3 encompasses Millsboro and Long Neck and a portion of the Dagsboro area, with Millsboro Middle School, East Millsboro Elementary and Long Neck Elementary within its boundary.

Dana Probert

Leolga Wright

“I believe that schools are critical infrastructure. I think schools are as important and fill a very similar role in our daily lives as things like roads, the postal service, electricity and water and all of those things,” said Ms. Probert. “That perspective, I haven’t seen a lot of that from our school board as seeing this as really building the building blocks of our community.”

“In general, I just like being on the board. I like being a part of the community,” said Ms. Wright. “Long Neck is in my district; you get to stop in there and you get to interact with the kids. You see them at sporting events or in the grocery store, and it’s just a sense of being able to relate with them.”

Polls on May 8 are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polling places for bona fide District 3 residents are East Millsboro Elementary School, located on Iron Branch Road, and Long Neck Elementary School on School Road in Long Neck.

Leolga Wright

Ms. Wright is currently in her sixth year on the IRSD school board. In July 2012, she was appointed to the board to fill out the term of District 3 representative Randall Hughes, who was appointed to the State Board of Education.

In 2013, Ms. Wright sought a full term and defeated Paulette Rappa.

“This will be my second challenge,” said Ms. Wright, who says there are a “number of reasons” why she is seeking re-election.

“The first one would be the overcrowding. We need to get that taken care of,” said Ms. Wright. “I’d like to see us be able to do something with the overcrowding that we have in the district, and when we do it not just at look at a short-term fix but look at it for the long term so that we don’t have to keep going back to the public for taxes and for referendums.”

“And  I would like to see the construction of the new Howard T. Ennis School to come into effect and be completed,” she said. “We are well on our way for that.”

During her five-plus years on the board, there have been highs and some lows within district.

Several referendums have passed, supporting classroom/facility expansion and current expense costs, and the district continues to rank among the state’s highest in academic prowess.

There, also, were financial discrepancies that led to the departure of the then finance officer, and a critical state audit in the fall of 2016. Problems and issues have been rectified.

Transparency, Ms. Wright says, is paramount.

“We need to continue to strive to be transparent with our funding and how we spend the taxpayers’ funds. That way, we can get away from those issues that we had in previous years,” Ms. Wright said.

Ms. Wright says she is committed to making Indian River the premiere district in the state.

“I’d like to see us continue striving to be the top district in state. I’d like to see us continue thinking outside of the box when it comes to learning — the learning environment and the classroom environment,” said Ms. Wright. “For the example, for years all we have had were basically sports. We had football, baseball, basketball, girls’ sports, guys’ sports. Now, we are getting more into the STEM program, the robotics, and I’d like to see us continue to be supportive of that.”

Ms. Wright says not every child is an athlete and every child is probably not going to be college bound, all students while they are in school should “be able to use their minds to be able to build and expand upon projects.”

“A good education system is vital for all children and dedicated teachers are important,” said Ms. Wright.

A member of the Nanticoke Indian Association and the Indian River Volunteer Fire Company Auxiliary, Ms. Wright also volunteers in homebound meal delivery for CHEER Inc.’s nutrition services.

She, also, serves on the advisory committee for Delaware Every Student Succeeds Act and was appointed to the Delaware Citizen Involvement Advisory Council (CIAC), which works in collaboration with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Ms. Wright says she has plenty of time to devote to the board, district and education.

“I retired a couple years ago. They did an early out and I was able to do that. I took advantage of it, and I have never regretted it,” she said. “So now I devote my time to volunteering in my community.”

Dana Probert

A native of northeast Philadelphia, Ms. Probert came to southern Delaware in 2002 when she was 25.

A civil engineer by trade, she has worked in infrastructure, road, storm-water design, aerospace defense and large manufacturers. She is now a consultant with Autodesk.

“The reason it is interesting and potentially relevant, living in Sussex and being part of the rural small-town day to day life, and also having a bit of a foot in the Silicon Valley tech world as well seeing a cross-section of different employers from small engineering firms to large manufacturers to international companies, I’d like to think that gives some perspective on the jobs in the future and what we can do to not only prepare our kids for what our community needs from an employment/entrepreneurship standpoint but, also, what opportunities might be available for them in a broader sense.”

She graduated from Georgia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in science civil engineering. She also has a master’s in business administration from Wilmington University.

Ms. Probert’s husband works for the Delaware Department of Transportation. They have three children: a daughter, 14; and sons aged 10 and 7. All three attended East Millsboro Elementary. Her daughter now attends Sussex Academy.

Her family is planning to build a new home on farmland on Carey’s Camp Road.

Ms. Probert became involved in the campaign for the district’s most recent referendum — a $7.35 million current expense measure that passed overwhelmingly on a second try in March 2017, following narrow defeat in November 2016.

“As a busy parent and someone who cares deeply about education, you start to get your eyes open to where the school board’s priorities are, especially when it’s something like a referendum. I was actively involved campaigning for the one two years ago, that failed, and then regrouping and getting a little bit more organized for the referendum that ultimately passed,” said Ms. Probert. “Getting involved in that process really wanted me to be a part of making our school district work, making our school district a better place. The referendum was a bit of a wakeup call.”

“But the position that our schools were in, the challenges they were facing at that time, if the referendum had not been approved to move forward and if the referendum had not been approved by the public, our school district would have been in an extremely bad position,” said Ms. Probert. “When I learned that the school board seat was up, we all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Can anybody make this work and go for the seat?’  It is something I have always wanted to do, so I said maybe this is the year. We’re all busy; let’s make this work.”

Ms. Probert says the board and district must do their homework and be fiscally accountable with tax dollars.

“You just don’t throw money at problems,” said Ms. Probert. “I want to make sure our taxpayers are getting the return on their investment. I want to make sure that people trust us, that we are being creative and innovative and digging deep before we take something say, to referendum or changing elements in a budget or making an investment in a certain program or facility.”

“I think that creativity can play a big part,” said Ms. Probert. “Something I do in my work is helping companies innovate and think differently. If there is a way to tackle say a budget constraint, or the need for a new school or tweak a program so that it is more effective, how can we think differently? I’d like to think I could bring that to the table as far as helping the school board, helping the administration gather feedback from the public, from teachers, from students and coming up with ways to solve problems that don’t involve, ‘Let’s raise taxes’ or ‘Let’s cut this program.’”

In a nutshell, her main priorities are “approaching education as truly the critical element that is, making sure that everything has a solid business case and will provide a solid return on their investment for the taxpayer, and creativity and different thinking.”

Outside of work, Ms. Probert is actively in Delaware 4-H through the Sunset Branch 4-H, which meets at Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Department. She was honored this past February as the 2018 Delaware 4-H Volunteer.

She, also, pitches in as a coach with River Soccer and has worked with the East Millsboro PTO.

“I’ve been in 4-H with kids for a few years. I started the Sunset Branch 4-H Club. We have about 30 active members. We’re actively involved in everything Delaware 4-H does,” said Ms. Probert. “I am very passionate about science education, hands-on learning and leadership. Kids get to do something that is different from school. It gets them using their hands and brains.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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